Living With Migraines

The Ultimate Guide to Foods That Trigger Migraine Attacks

You might already know about common migraine triggers like stress, lack of sleep, and even exercise (no, seriously), but did you know that what you’re eating could also be giving you migraines?

Of course, the relationship between food and migraine isn’t clear-cut, and unfortunately, no single factor can be directly tied to your attacks. That said, there’s scientific and anecdotal evidence that avoiding the foods below could help reduce the frequency or severity of your attacks (even if your migraines are typically triggered by visual stimuli like flashing lights).

So, without further ado, here’s a list of the most common food triggers for migraine sufferers, in no particular order.

10 Migraine-Triggering Foods

1. Excessive Coffee

We know that some of you are probably groaning when you see this, but research shows that excessive caffeine consumption can trigger migraines, and both a 2016 study and a 2019 study suggest cutting back on coffee can help reduce migraines.

Now, if you can’t start your day with coffee, note the use of the word “excessive.” We know that the caffeine boost can feel like a lifesaver at times, and if that’s the case, drink it! But try to limit yourself to less than two cups per day.

2. Red Wine

Nope, it’s not just you. Studies confirm that alcoholic beverages are a common trigger, with certain chemicals in alcohol like tyramine and histamine believed to be the problem. Red wine, a commonly-reported trigger, contains a lot of histamine.

3. Aged Cheeses

Unfortunately for cheese lovers, this delicacy can also be a trigger for migraine symptoms. Again, the culprit is tyramine. Blue cheese, brie, cheddar, swiss, feta, mozzarella, and most other common cheeses are good to avoid.

4. Chocolate

We hate to (continue to) be the bearers of bad news, but chocolate can also sabotage your chances of avoiding migraines. One studyfound that, compared to a placebo, chocolate triggered a migraine in 42% of its subjects.

5. Citrus Fruits

While eating lots of fresh fruit is a great way to avoid migraines (and stay healthy!), you might want to be careful with citrus fruits. While some people say oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes give them migraines, they’re not as common a trigger as some of the other foods on this list. Try tracking your migraines to see if avoiding these fruits makes a difference for you.

6. Aspartame and Other Artificial Sweeteners

If you’ve got a sweet tooth, listen up: Research suggests that artificial sweeteners like aspartame commonly found in Diet Coke and other calorie-free drinks may increase the risk of migraine headaches.

7. Yeast

Foods that contain yeast—like sourdough bread and fresh-baked goods like donuts, cakes, and breads—have been known to trigger migraines. The sneaky ingredient is (you guessed it) tyramine, the same culprit found within alcohol and cheese.

8. Monosodium Glutamate (a.k.a. MSG)

MSG is a flavor enhancer used in a variety of processed foods, like frozen or canned foods, soups, snacks, seasoning, and more. A 2016 review of the available science concluded that MSG is no more likely to cause a headache or migraine than placebo, but many migraine sufferers say MSG is a trigger for them.

9. Processed and cured meats

Cured and processed meats (think: bacon, sausage, ham, and deli meats) often include nitrites and nitrates, known migraine triggers used to preserve their color and flavor. One study found that 5% of subjects with migraine history were statistically more likely to experience head pain on days they consumed nitrites, so make sure you check the ingredients you leave the grocery store with that pack of bacon.

10. Nuts and Certain Seeds

Addicted to almond butter? Prepare for some bad news: almonds, peanuts, and many other nuts and seeds contain tyramine, and you know what that means. Like all triggers, not all migraine sufferers are sensitive to nuts, so a trial and error may be the key to figuring out if you are.

A Few More Potential Trigger Foods

Even though we’d hate to take the fun out of even more of your favorite foods, we should let you know about these other potential trigger foods. According to the Cleveland Clinic, these foods are commonly reported as migraine triggers, but there’s no scientific evidence that they really cause them, so don’t clean out your fridge just yet. Instead, turn to a migraine tracker to see if any of these might be causing you pain.

  • Avocados
  • Chicken livers and other organ meats
  • Dairy products like buttermilk, sour cream, and yogurt
  • Dried fruits like dates, figs, and raisins
  • Garlic
  • Most beans including lima, fava, navy, pinto, garbanzo, lentils, and snow peas
  • Onions
  • Pickled foods like olives, sauerkraut, and, of course, pickles
  • Potato chips
  • Some fresh fruits like ripe bananas, papaya, red plums, raspberries, kiwi, and pineapple
  • Smoked or dried fish
  • Tomato-based products (including pizza!)

We know reading this might make you feel like you’ll have to start living off of nothing but water if you want to avoid debilitating pain, but it’s important to remember that not all of these foods are triggers for every sufferer (and for many sufferers, hunger can be a bigger trigger than any specific food). Migraines are personal, and the only way to learn your specific triggers is to track your migraines, make one adjustment at a time, and see what helps.

And, of course, not all foods are your enemy. Check out this article for a list of migraine-safe foods.

Rather not change your whole diet to avoid migraines? Look into trying a preventative treatment, such as a supplement, that can help reduce your migraine frequency.

The information provided in this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely upon the content provided in this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.